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Monday 06.20.05

« John Singer Sargent at PAM | Main | June Calls for Artists »

Portland gallery hopping

Jacqueline Ehlis at Savage

To the un-initiated the art scene activity in Portland is a bit daunting and (without a guide like PORT) sometimes tough to locate outside of the Pearl District, which typically shows less experimental work (but even that isnt always true). Every month there are new galleries, artist groups, itinerant warehouse shows and at least three major art walks to confront. The bankers havn't driven the artists out… some of these artists even own homes before age 35, although housing is a very tight market. Grads from Columbia, CCA, UNLV, NYU, Rutgers, Brown, Alfred, RISD and Art Center litter the scene but refreshingly talent is the only real currency. Trust funders although plentiful, don't dominate the pecking order either. Basically, if you've got it… it gets noticed here fast.

So to help here is a bit of a travelogue or diary review starting with cocktails the night of May 31st. Then we go right into the First Thursday and First Friday openings. Also, for every show I mention 5 others are skipped. For our local readers this means you have a week and a half (at the time of this post) to catch anything you missed.

On Tuesday night (may 31st), before the Wednesday previews part of the scene was ensconced at Le Happy, a crepe place and bar in "The Bucket" neighborhood tucked under I-5. It is near the Pearl District and NW 21st . Artist John Brodie (and manager of the band Pink Martini) owns the place. Much of the scene was there; Joe Thurston, Bob Wilcox, Brad Adkins, Marne Lucas, Leah Emkin, Laura Fritz, James Boulton and Bruce Conkle. PORT's own Jennifer Armbrust is at another large table and I give her a nod and eye contact. Big gestures in crowded rooms aren't my thing, private bookish art-nerd that I am. She was gruntled I didn't wave but hey if I waved at her 20 people would logically think I was waving at them too… or drowning.

Wednesday June 1st previews:

This was PORT's launch day and many thanks to Tyler Green who is the MAN when it comes to art blogging. Also, big thanks to longtime blogger Carolyn Zick of Dangerous Chunky too.

The best show by far was by UNLV Dave Hickey alum Jacqueline Ehlis, who seems to have combined the Marfa aesthetic with Willy Wonka, Jo Baer, Tuttle and a little Alfred Stieglitz to pull off 5 distinct but related bodies of work in one strong show. Hanging out with Robert Storr and Hickey never hurts but she is very independent minded. Now she seems to have moved beyond grad school predictability into something that even those who hate Hickey are grooving on. Sales are great, major non-local contemporary museums are in aquisition mode and there is a general sense she's done something special here. The show has kept me off balance and Im still processing the loud minimal weirdness. Read Katherine's PORT review here.

Tim Dalbow at Laura Russo Gallery

First Thursday June 2nd:

It was a bit chilly and overcast but Tim Dalbow (a young painter who is always impeccably dressed) had his opening at The Laura Russo Gallery. But clothes don't make the art. His show here is a surprise because this very beautiful gallery is mostly known for their historical northwest artists and Robert Colescott (who once lived in Portland). Dalbow's new paintings are a bit Robert Delaunay-ish with fractured cubist space that treats some of Portland's freeways and bridges to shaky treatment. Its cubist roots are by way of the De Kooning overpass. Instead of women, Dalbow paints bridges. Pretty traditional but nicely done. I'd a like subject matter with more attitude better but they are his best works to date.

Dalbow has a wicked sense of humor and when confronted with Kurt Perschke's recent red ball project in Portland (ugghh a more portable, histrionic and civic pandering Christo derivative?) he concocted the blue balls project. He could probably get a grant from Pfiser and do ads with Bob Dole…

Next there was PNCA's Focus 2005 show for graduating seniors. The school has been producing stronger and stronger grads lately.

Shawn Callahan at PNCA

My pick is Shawn Callahan whose "Puto Chongo Animal Ring" translation = "Bitch Monkey Animal Ring", had an wry sense of class consciousness and presented some fine questions about determinism (fate or free will) that although well executed sounded a lot like a recent art school grad with the usual "what now" jitters. Yup, Mr. Callahan the real world is every bit as mean as you assume, only with a pervasive sense of laziness that will thrill and amaze you. Keep up the good work.

After that I snuck into PDX gallery before they close (the tiny space doesn't do 1st Thursday). The ubiquitous summer group show looks really good, restrained but very strong. PDX is currently building out their new larger space. It is slated to open in September.

Brad Adkins at PDX

In this show, the James Lavadour's are amazing and Brad Adkins' new water bottle works are darn good, a bit Tom Friedman (he can mutter about the differences but 2 years ago he was obsessed with him) and a bit Yayoi Kusama. I've ridden Brad pretty hard about his lazy ass early work but this is good stuff. I'm thrilled actually. Still, with this breakthrough he will get lots of hell because he made his name through populist participatory art projects that didn't work too well as art but did work at promoting or syndicating him. Now that he's good, envy will set in. Actually he's in the habit of putting other people's names on his showcard (like Matt McCormick and James Boulton)… now some sassy person is writing Tom Friedman on the showcard that pictures Adkins at work making one of his bottles. I can tell it isn't Brad, not his handwriting.

Ellen George's Claire

Still at PDX gallery, Ellen George steals the show though with Claire. It has an impressive combination of delicacy and poise and Im starting to wonder if George is heir to Noguchi and Calder. She's made huge strides in the last two years and New York or LA couldn't have produced this kind of art, it is too against what is hot there.

Next, the Ken Kelly show at Pulliam Deffenbaugh gallery was definitely a highlight and deserves serious attention. Pattern isn't just ornament it is freelance structure or a visual jungle gym that gives a workout whenever you look at it. More on this later.

At Elizabeth Leach Gallery I enjoyed "Paint" and the Pat Steir's yet again (see Andie DeLuca's PORT review).


I really liked the Kiki Smith print "Ich bin Hungrig" on an antique mirror from Edition Schellman (at $1200 it is a really nice work that is better than a lot of her drawings). Daniel Buren's "Couleurs" video was playing away as well. Ripping papers with stripes never looked better and I find it better than his physical works. Surprise, the video is not for sale.

Down the street there is a new gallery in the Pearl District: Beppu Wiarda with new paintings by Deborah Gillis. Pretty standard early 60's Patrick Heron-ish abstracts. Nothing too notable here other than it is yet another new gallery. They will need to so something to distinguish themselves beyond pleasant, sellable abstracts.

Down at the bustling Everett Station Lofts a collection of 15 artist run galleries I really dug Milk Gallery's Matthew Clark show. Clark is one of the best comic book artists on the planet and these Superman drawings were intense psychological dramas. Rarely is real life this intense, but occasionally it happens and his stuff rings true to the limited experience I have with such intensity. The great thing about Superman is you know he will survive (especially when drawn this well).

Brodie Large gets LARGE

Next there was Brodie Large, who runs the Residence Gallery and his double parking of white stretch limos while donning a white leisure suit becaome one giant phallic exercise. Purposefully bad.


At Just Be Toys/Compound, one of Portland's many successful hybrid retail/gallery spaces I was taken with Henichi Hosine's polite winter series, some are incredibly sensitive and refined.

Hosine Polite Winter (detail)

Downstairs it's all things Otaku, upstairs it is a gallery.

On First Thursday it is always packed to the gills with people. I love the Superflat paradigm put into a business plan. Portland is in many ways more influenced by Tokyo than by New York trends, the east coast seems to be a tad behind and Portland's freshwater shipping port is all about Asian trade.

Motel, another hybrid gallery (owned by PORT's own Jennifer Armbrust) had their best show to date "The Hum of God." The artist Jesse Durost has a magical combination of chiniosorie, a Zen sensibility and that sooo Portland thing "coffee". The combination of itsy bitsy gallery space and large works creates an enveloping panoramic environment for the viewer. Durost is still developing but he is mining Chinatown gift shop shtick successfully. If Durost drinks enough Portland coffee maybe he can hear God humming (probably a Cole Porter song or Wayne Kramer's "brought a knife to the gunfight").

Moving downtown to Gallery 500, their Habitat show provided an entertaining art as slum experience with 6 artists literally in residence. Not very original, it was successful and the point is more about the tight knit village atmosphere such projects nearly always produce.

What is interesting is how much fun these community-energy-creating shows nearly always are, we humans are at heart communal social sorts and are hard wired to find this fascinating.

First Friday June 3rd in the CEAD (Central Eastside Arts District):

Started with the official Ehlis opening, and it is the second viewing of the show. Lots of people and Tracy Savage seemed to be having a ball selling the work for prices much higher than typical Portland (which are way too low). I havn't seen her have this much fun as a dealer in a long time. Ehlis also has a DVD documenting a studio talk between her and Elizabeth Brown, chief curator of The Henry in Seattle. It is smart and provocative with none of the posturing or caginess you aften see when artists have a camera turned on them. Again, there is a general sense that Ehlis has achieved something important here, loud minimalism, pied ascetiscism? Ill stay mum till the proper time and place.

Ryan Boyle at Hall Gallery

Next at Hall Gallery (630 SE 3rd ave) I took in a warehouse show sardonically called "The Thrill Of It All." It is mostly recent graduates from San Francisco and Portland's Ryan Boyle. Boyle's new work is developing into an odder than hell combination of HC Westerman and Richard Tuttle and is an interesting break from the ubiquitous "Choads" he did 2 years ago. This is one to watch.

Tim Sullivan makes eye popping photographs that grab you but I see this stuff constantly. I need something more than Crewdson & Barney meets Charles Ray staring type cinema-photography. Maggie Lee Foster's "Stay awake with me in the hour of the wolf" with its staring monotony reminded me of Fischl and Weiss, which is good but not better than that. Her other work was all over the place.

Next I went to the Newspace's "New Photography" national juried photography show. Some nice work, but I hate the slew of black frames and white mattes. My pick was "Good Morning Honey" by Irma Martinez Sizer fom Lubbock Texas. Am I a sucker for action figures in staged domestic settings? In this case yes, but action figure art is a slippery slope.

I ended at The New American Art Union, which had an uneven show of Rose McCormick's latest work. I liked one part of one painting which had the words, "run the vodoo town." This is one of the best gallery spaces in the city but the shows have been hit or miss, mostly miss. Next month with Joe Macca collaging Art Forum magazines into Suprematist compositions and some much wilder projects should give them a lift though.

...there is always a next month.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on June 20, 2005 at 0:48 | Comments (0)


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